Philippians 2.19-30, Part 2

While Paul feels unable to send Timothy to the Philippians at this moment, he determines it is “necessary” to send Epaphroditus to church right away. Paul takes pains to express both his and the Philippians’ mutual attachment to the person. He is “my brother, fellow worker, and fellow soldier” (words reminiscent of the partnership language in chapter 1) and “your messenger and the one who serves my needs” (2.25).

Though the Philippians had initially sent this man to Paul, he eagerly embraces his own affection for the man before sending him back, likely to reassure that the Philippians (in the personage of Epaphroditus) had been well-received by the apostle and to ensure that his own message would receive a similar reception among them.

Paul sends Epaphroditus for two reasons: the messenger was longing for the church and the church was experiencing anguish at the thought of the latter’s severe illness (2.26). In sending him, Paul hopes that the Philippians will rejoice and his own anxiety about them (i.e., the Philippians) will be relieved. A good messenger, well-prepared, should accomplish these objectives given the right situation.

Paul concludes this section on his plans with a word about the church’s responsibility: they are under an obligation to receive Epaphroditus “with all joy and honor men like this” (29) because of such service for the gospel. Here the messenger becomes, for Paul, the embodiment of the participatory service in the gospel that he is trying to urge upon the church at Philippi. Paul wants them to be careless with their life as Epaphroditus was on Paul’s (and thus the gospel’s) behalf (2.29–30) and as he has been on their behalf.


Philippians 2.19-30, Part 1

So we come to a section in Philippians, not uncommon in letters of the period, wherein Paul details his future travel plans and those of his associates. He notes first of all his firm intention to send his close friend and fellow missionary, Timothy, to the Philippian body of believers. By formally expressing his plans in this way, Paul is ensuring a proper reception for Timothy.

Several items are worth noting here. What motivates Paul to send Timothy is his desire “to become aware of those things which concern” (2:19) the church at Philippi. This may be a conventional expression but nonetheless expresses Paul’s desire to be kept abreast of the real issues surrounding the believers. (Would that ministers were as vigilant about the well-being of their own local congregations as Paul was about those in cities far from his current location!)

Secondly, as assessed by his own mentor, Timothy rates high in his commitment to the gospel. We have already seen in this letter how Paul has abandoned much—e.g., his personal freedom (1.12), his concern about his reputation (1.18), his immediate desire to be with Christ (1.24–25)—in his quest to advance the gospel and its working in the lives of new believers. Timothy, it seems, is cut from the same cloth, as Paul writes of him that he “is genuinely concerned about your welfare” (2.21) and like Paul above all “served . . . the furtherance of the gospel” (2.22).

Lastly, though Paul plans on sending Timothy to the church, he nevertheless hopes to make the trip himself. From Mitchell’s study it can be reasonably concluded that Paul at times preferred to send envoys to his churches, especially when it was evident that his presence would if anything enflame a tense situation. Here, however, Paul seems to enjoy a genuinely amiable relationship with the Philippians, from which we might judge that his expressed intent here to visit them is indeed sincere. It is important that such travel plans are grounded by his brief but powerful phrase “in the Lord,” which reveals the instrumentality of his intentions.


Hengel on the Old Testament Canon

Michael Bird quotes a significant statement from renowned scholar Martin Hengel on the closed versus open nature of the Old Testament canon based upon its relation to its usage (along with other, non-canonical literature) by NT authors. Read the quote and Bird's reflections here.



Erlend MacGillivray's article is a trenchant criticism of the over-application of the Roman patronage system to the broader Greco-Roman world and, indeed, to the New Testament. Read it here.


Ancient Wall Discovered in Jerusalem

A large, ancient wall has been uncovered in Jerusalem. Check out the story here.

About the wall: it's said to be 3,700 years old, and stood "8 meters (26 feet) high."

"To build straight walls up 8 meters ... I don't know how to do it today without mechanical equipment," said the excavation's director, Ronny Reich. "I don't think that any engineer today without electrical power [could] do it."



Good Reads

Good musings on a Greek phrase over at Cafe Apocalypsis. Reflections on our ignorance of the historical Jesus by Mark Goodacre at The Bible and Interpretation.


Associations in Roman Asia Minor

Wow, two months since I've posted. Work has been crazy! Before I got so busy, I read a book by Philip Harland on assocational life in Roman Asia Minor, a very interesting one at that.

Harland's analysis of the place of associations in the Greek East of the Roman empire begins with a critique of the former scholarly consensus about the character of associations, which saw them in large part as subversive "clubs." In this view, members of associations, drawn largerly from the lower classes, gathered together according to religious commitments, ethnicity, occupation, etc. as a way to feel connected; this desire for connectedness, moreover, was prompted by a sense of dislocation from civic mechanisms as the Roman Republic became the Roman Empire. Associational activity, then, was a way to express and relieve a deep-seated angst.

In exposing this consensus to critique, Harland is able to show that far from being protest movements, associations actually provided a link to civic participation. His examination of inscriptional evidence demonstrated a rich interplay between associations of all different stripes and prominent individuals (e.g., through benefaction) and civic bodies. An association would court the favor of rich and influential members of society; those individuals might bestow significant financial resources to the association; the association in turn would respond by honoring the benefactor with prayers and/or a highly visible inscription on a building used for meeting and banqueting. Associations needed the support of such individuals and civic bodies in terms of financial support and (sometimes) offical sanctioning, and prominent members of society craved the honor that came from being recognized for their benefactions.

One of the most interesting parts of Harland's study is his attempt to set Jewish and Christian gathering in the context of associational life. He notes, for instance, the similar terminology that applied to both (synagogues, etc). In fact, he argues that in many places Jews and Christians who gathered together in their respective communities would have conceived of their activities and identity as belonging to the category of association.

In characterizing Jewish and Christian gatherings along the lines of associations, Harland is note suggesting that there is a geneological relationship along the line of their belief systems or even that--in the history-of-religions framework--that such Jewish and Christian groups somehow were a natural outgrowth of the latter in a social evolutionary process. Rather, there is an analogical relationship that tells us much about composition and typical activities. Harland suggests that many scholars of a previous generation, fearful of any suggestion of such a geneaological relationship and wanting to assert Christianity's utter uniqueness as movement, resisted drawing analogies between Jewish/Christian gatherings and associations. Many similarities are to be seen, however, when it comes to investigating much of their activities and the self-descriptive terminology employed, as well as, and here is the surprising part, their relationship with civic authorities--which I hope to come back to.